Unable to Tank: Enjoy These Chicago Bulls While You Still Can

Kelly Scaletta@@KellyScalettaFeatured ColumnistJanuary 25, 2014

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With the Chicago Bulls going 7-3 since trading Luol Deng, it’s apparent that whatever the front office is doing, the players on the team have no intention of tanking, so just enjoy them while you still can.  

Gar Forman and John Paxson have their job to do, and they have to think about the future of the team. They need to be cool and logical in how they evaluate things.

That’s not a criticism. If I’m having surgery, I don’t want a fired-up surgeon. There’s a time for that approach.

I don’t fault the Bulls for trading Deng because it was the right move, and they’re supposed to be reasonable. But the front office isn’t on the court or on the bench. It isn't playing games.

Having said that, there are two incontrovertible truths at play here: First, the Bulls' chances of winning a championship are about as good as Tom Thibodeau’s chances of dating Kate Upton. Second, while there may be times when the offense gives off the odious stench of a Chicago dumpster outside a butcher’s shop in mid-August, there’s just no “tank” in this “stank.”

The Bulls are not going to quit on the season.

When the ball tips off, that’s when you stop putting your head first and start putting your heart first.

This team plays with the molten-lava hot passion that makes it (in my best Tommy Edwards voice) “your Chicago Bulls.” That’s what we love to cheer for, and that means the Bulls are going to win some games.

Joakim Noah made that clear after a few days of media silence following the trade of his friend. Sean Highkin of USA Today quotes him:

There's no tanking. There's none of that. We're going to go out and give it 150%. When (our jerseys) say 'Chicago Bulls,' I want people to be proud of that. Whether we have four guys out, no matter who's hurt, we're going to give 150% win or lose. I know people in this city are proud of that.

We just want to represent. Even when I come to the game, I see the guy on the streets selling the newspaper. It's cold outside, but when he sees me drive by, he's excited. 'Alright, let's go Bulls! Get it done tonight!' I feel like I play for that guy.

To me, that's what the city represents. There's a lot of hardship. There's a lot of adversity. So I feel like, when I play basketball, I want people to be proud of their team.

That’s not just something Noah says, it’s who he is. It’s who he’s always been. He’s a true competitor. He fights so hard that when he says “150 percent” you don’t even think, “that’s not possible,” because with Noah it is.

It’s standard. That’s why he’s loved.

Do you really want that ferocity turned off for a season? Is that even the kind of thing that can be switched back on? Do you want Taj Gibson to stop trying? Or Jimmy Butler?

So what if they get clobbered by the Los Angeles Clippers, not just once, but twice? That’s going to happen. But so are crazy, intense triple-overtime wins and crazy, intense triple-overtime losses. That’s what heart produces.

The Bulls aren’t going to be as pretty to watch as the Clippers or the Miami Heat, but they’re going to be an experience on most nights, because they still have Tom Thibodeau, and that means the second-ranked defense in the NBA. That also means that they’re going to be scrapping through games.

Let’s face it: There’s no such thing as a roster so bad that Thibodeau can’t win in the Eastern Conference with it. The Bulls are going to grind and lose or grind and win, but they’re going to be playing defense and grinding, because that’s who Thibodeau is. That’s what he coaches.

Do you get it? This is season isn’t about what the Bulls do, it’s about who they are. That's what makes them special. They don’t have the glossy Hollywood sheen, but they do have unmatched fight. Regardless of what happens, they will always have fight.

There’s no reasoning with that, and there shouldn’t be, because even reason isn’t that reasonable.

Forget about draft picks. If any franchise players are coming out, the Bulls can’t lose enough games to get them one anyway. There are just too many teams that are far worse than the Bulls for that to happen.

Besides, picks guarantee nothing. In the last 25 years, only three No. 1 overall picks (Shaquille O’Neal, Tim Duncan and LeBron James) have won an NBA title.  Of the last 10 picks, only three (Derrick Rose, Blake Griffin and Dwight Howard) have even won a playoff series with the team that drafted them.

The last four top selections are on teams with losing records, two of them on the Cleveland Cavaliers. While superstars like Rose, Griffin and James were chosen first, so were Greg Oden, Andrea Bargnani, Michael Olowokandi and Kwame Brown.

Is there a kind of logic to intentionally losing? Sure, there is. A worse record equals a higher pick, which means a better player, which in turn equates to a more promising future. This isn’t advanced math. It’s not like the anti-tank crowd is struggling to grasp the complexities of the argument.

It’s that the argument has no place in being a fan.

“Fan” is short for “fanatic,” which Dictionary.com defines as "a person with an extreme and uncritical enthusiasm or zeal.” Fans don’t care about cool logic. They aren’t GMs. They have passion.

Fans are uncritical and enthusiastic.

Be one. It will make the season so much better.

There can be something particularly fun about a season like this, and when you see Thibodeau joking after getting blown out, it’s apparent what it is. The whole year is playing with house money.

Next season, everything changes. With Derrick Rose returning and offseason acquisitions arriving, the expectations will rise again. And because of that, wins will be expected and losses will once again be disappointing. So enjoy this season for its uniqueness. 

In a lot of ways, it’s like last season but without the hope of Rose coming back for the playoffs. So even that tiny hope for a title isn't there. There's literally nothing to lose. 

But the Bulls don’t have to have a chance for a title to make it worthwhile.  

Think back to the highlights of last year: ending the Miami Heat’s 27-game winning streak. The amazing Game 4 comeback against the Brooklyn Nets and then going on to win Game 7. The Game 1 upset of the Heat in the second round.

None of those things were “supposed” to happen. But they did.

If you’re a Bulls fan think, how you felt in those moments. Forget about all the torture of the rest of the season, and the politics of Rose’s will-he-or-won’t-he #thereturn saga.

When little Nate Robinson was tearing up the Nets in Game 4, who was yelling at the TV? I was. You were. Every completely unreasonable, zealous, uncritical Bulls fan was screaming his or her fool head off. And we all loved it!

We loved it because this team has fight, and we love fight. It’s in the Bulls' DNA.

They. Will. Not. Yield.

And because they won’t, there will be other wonderful memories from this season. Just because they’re not going to win a title doesn’t mean they can’t be enjoyed. Maybe they don’t win the title, but they get to the second round and make things uncomfortable for the Heat or Indiana Pacers.

Maybe, just maybe, the Bulls give the fans another reason to act like deranged fools in the privacy of their living rooms.

Who cares if they lose? Spartacus lost, but he’s remembered. Sometimes, the struggle is more meaningful and more inspiring than the result.

Asking this team to tank is asking it to terminate the most special part of the squad. Be a fan, not a GM. If the Bulls are giving 150 percent on the court, we can at least give them 100 percent of our support.


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